Slim and sleek Linux distro


© Franck Boston, Fotolia

© Franck Boston, Fotolia

Article from Issue 97/2008

In a world of multi-gigabyte Linux distributions, it's refreshing to see lightweight distributions like Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux. But even these distributions look fat next to SliTaz.

The tiny SliTaz [1] Linux distribution weighs in at less than 30MB, but it packs a graphical desktop environment and an amazing array of applications. Similar to Puppy Linux, SliTaz loads entirely to RAM, so it runs blazingly fast even on older hardware. Because SliTaz is a Live CD Linux distribution, getting it running on your machine is a breeze. Before you do that, however, you have to choose which version of SliTaz you want to run.

Stable and Cooking

SliTaz is available in two versions: stable and cooking. As you might have guessed, the former has been fully tested and includes stable packages, whereas the latter contains bleeding-edge kernel, features, and software.

After choosing the version you like, you can download the appropriate .iso image, burn it on a CD, and then boot your machine from it.

Alternatively, you can use the excellent UNetbootin utility to create a Live USB stick [2]. UNetbootin provides built-in support for SliTaz, which makes it easy to install the distro on a USB stick (Figure 1). Simply plug the USB stick, launch UNetbootin, select SliTaz from the Distribution list, press OK, and the tool handles the rest.

Also, you can run SliTaz from a Windows partition. To do this, install GRUB for DOS [3], copy the SliTaz .iso image to the C:\boot directory, and add the following lines to the C:\menu.lst file:

title SliTaz cooking
 map (hd0,0)/boot/ slitaz-cooking.iso (hd1)
 map --hook
 kernel (hd1)/boot/ bzImage rw root=/dev/null vga=normal
 initrd (hd1)/boot/rootfs.gz

The cooking version of SliTaz also allows you to boot the system from the web. To do so, download the GPXE package to C:\boot and add the following code to C:\menu.lst:

title SliTaz web
 kernel (hd0,0)/boot/gpxe

This will boot the latest version of SliTaz. But that's not all: You can also perform a so-called frugal install, which is explained in the SliTaz Wiki [4].

Boot Parameters

Because it's a Live CD Linux distribution, SliTaz supports a number of boot parameters. Using, for example, the home boot parameter, you can specify on which USB device SliTaz should save your user data, such as settings, bookmarks, downloads, etc.:

slitaz home=sda1

Keep in mind, though, that the USB device you want to use for that must be formatted as ext3. Another useful boot parameter is screen, which you can use to specify the screen resolution:

slitaz screen=1280x1024x24

If you are running SliTaz on a laptop, you can use the laptop boot parameter to load laptop-specific kernel modules.

SliTaz also features two boot parameters that allow you to run the distribution on a machine with limited RAM. The slitaz-loram parameter lets you load SliTaz on a machine with 64MB of RAM, and the slitaz-loram-cdrom parameter forces SliTaz to run from the CD without loading the system to RAM. This way, you can run SliTaz on computers with 16MB of RAM.

During boot, the system prompts you to choose your language, keyboard layout, and screen resolution (provided you haven't specified these settings with boot parameters), and after SliTaz is up and running, you are presented with an uncluttered desktop based on the Joe's Window Manager (JWM) graphical desktop environment (Figure 2).

The panel at the top provides quick access to all essential tools and applications. Here, you will find shortcuts to the Mozilla web browser and an emelFM2 file manager, as well as a volume control, a network applet, a CPU monitor, and a clock. The SliTaz menu gives you access to all the installed applications.


Considering its size, SliTaz manages to squeeze in an impressive number of applications (Figure 3), including the Geany text editor, ePDFView PDF viewer, gFTP FTP client, GPicView image viewer, and the Transmission BitTorrent client.

Also, it has the Burnbox utility for burning CDs and DVDs, Osmo organizer, ListPatron list manager, mtPaint image editor, LightTPD web server, and WiKiss wiki. To keep the size small, SliTaz doesn't include any office application or an email client, but you can install additional packages with SliTaz's own package management tool.

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